Remembering Jounieh - Short Story
A short story set in the battle for Beirut in 1976. Leah a beautiful Muslim student is embarking on a dangerous love affair with a Christian banker in the last days of the civil war in Beirut. The couple, after a near debacle because they are spotted walking hand in hand by a unit of muslim militia, decide to go to the resort town of Jounieh to the north of the city for a weekend away from the fighting. There they consummate their love on a deserted beach. However, fate has the last word and misfortune befalls them as they travel back to West Beirut reminiscing on the happiest day of their lives.
Remembering Jounieh - Part 1
As the sleek Middle Eastern Airways Boeing 707 jetliner, with its Cedar Tree logo emblazoned on its tail, descended through 10 thousand feet, I saw from my window seat the city of Beirut, once the Paris of the Middle East, engulfed in pillars of black smoke. The giant bird continued to circle as it descended, first passing over the Palestinian enclaves near Beirut airport, then the Hotel district which was now a moonscape of rubble and acrid black smoke, and then Jounieh, the resort playground across the bay from the city itself.
Jounieh, with its fine low rise hotels, noisy bazaars and night clubs, and its miles of pure soft yielding white beaches, covered in sun beds and umbrellas, was a two fingered gesture at the war across the bay. I always marvelled at the pure hypocrisy of a people at war a mere 15 miles across the water, which at night and at weekends could play so hard in this haven of pure excitement.
But, I had played there too. When Beirut itself was too much for me, I played in Jounieh, and while I played I listened to the boom of cannon fire and watched the tracer light up the night sky over Beirut like the 4th of July. Yes I had played, I had loved, and I had lost too. My mind wound back almost six months to a couple of days which will forever be indelible in my being.
From my fourth floor office in a newly converted corner of the Royal Hotel Beirut in the heart of the Beirut hotel district, I looked at the monitors which displayed the forex platforms that we used to conduct forex trades for the students of the forex training centre. Outside I could hear the intermittent muffled sound of sniper fire, through the window blinds. I walked to the window and pulled aside the blind, squinting as the bright early morning sun streamed through the gap in the blind.
I looked out, almost expecting to see a rifle muzzle pointing my way from the roof of the Phoenician Hotel opposite. But, all I could see were rows of blinded or curtained windows, of the hotel over the road and a few guests down below in the foyer courtyard who were, as they had luggage with them, presumably waiting for a cab to take them to the airport.
They were lucky; they were getting out of the city. I wondered how many more days I would be here in this god forsaken city, before it became too dangerous even in the protected confines of a western hotel. As each day past, the sound of gunfire within the hotel district of Beirut was more noticeable. The Christian Phalangist forces had already taken over the top floor of the hotel and were now returning sniper fire in earnest. Even the streets were becoming more and more hazardous.
Remembering Jounieh - Part 2
Yesterday I had been sitting in a side walk café called the Beirut Star on Allenby Street, waiting for Leah to finish work and join me, when an open truck bearing a Soviet heavy machine-gun known as a Douchka, careened around the corner. The gunman was holding its grips with both hands to keep his balance, and firing indiscriminately into the air. It happened so fast that I did not have time to think, let alone take cover. My Elliniko kafedaki (Greek Coffee – a very popular coffee in Beirut) was halfway to my mouth when the Douchka rounded the corner, and it was still in the same position when it disappeared from sight.
Later, after Leah had joined me and I told her about the incident, she laughed, that infectious husky laugh which had drawn me to her in the first instance.
“Those things remind me of American westerns. She laughed. You know those riding broncos.”
I smiled at her turn of phrase. “You mean bucking broncos or bronco riding, Leah, not riding broncos.”
“Sorry my English never seems to improve.” She pulled a hurt face at me and then poked her tongue out at me. I joined in her laughter. “I would be happy to speak one other language well.” I ventured. But you Leah, a speaker of five languages, worry about a silly misquote like that. I smiled at her. Anyway, I heard on the English station yesterday, that the Douchka were known as ‘water-skiers’, because many people thought the gunman looked as though they are water skiing.”
“I’ve heard that too.” Leah replied. She smiled as she continued. “One day when we have time I’ll explain all you want to know about this terrible war. Anyway, you do speak another language well. You speak Greek don’t you?”
“True.” I replied, with a rueful smile. “I’m not sure I speak it that well. But I get by. Leah, will we ever have enough time to ourselves for me to hear your stories? You must realise that the Training Centre must evacuate soon. We cannot endanger the lives of the staff and students for much longer.”
“But am I not a student too?” She replied. “Will I not be evacuated too?”
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Remembering Jounieh - Part 3
I looked at her. Her head was turned towards the street, showing me her profile. She was very beautiful in an exotic way, not a true beauty, but there was something about her which made men’s heads turn when she walked by. Like many Lebanese girls she had dark rings under her eyes, which served to highlight her large green eyes. She wore her jet black hair long, just below the shoulders, so when she turned her head, her hair swayed around her head like leaves dancing in the wind. At 5’7 she was tall, her long shapely legs supporting a slim waist, and perfect upper body. Her breasts, although seemingly small, were shapely and stood proud underneath her T-shirt. Occasionally on evenings when we had eaten at a proper restaurant and she wore a blouse, I would catch a glimpse of her cleavage, and often wondered what it would be like to rest my head there.
I desperately hoped she would be evacuated and that her parents would not forbid her to travel outside the country, as we had become very close friends over the last few months and we were always in each other’s company. I often wondered whether we would we become more than friends? Yes, I had a feeling that when the time was right, something special would happen.
“Sam?” Leah’s voice cut through my revere. “You are miles away.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t miles away, I was much nearer than that.” I said locking onto her eyes.
“What were you thinking? Where were you then?” She smiled suddenly, knowingly. “Have you never seen a beautiful woman?” She teased, tossing her hair as her head turned, and leaning back in her chair so that her breasts stood even more proudly, pointing directly at me.
I laughed and looked at my watch. “Time we got going,” I ventured. “Curfew is in half an hour. We should go.”
Leah stuck her tongue out at me. “Fuck you!” she mouthed. I pretended not to understand. I wanted her to say those words out loud in her French accent which rounded out the roughness and made the words sound like a wonderful promise.
“Fuck you!” She whispered. Looking me directly in the eyes. She held her gaze for a few seconds and then a smile broke out on her lips. She let her eyes drop to my groin area and I was sure that she had noticed a movement there. Now I was flustered. She had this knack of making me lose control of my sexual emotions with just a glance, or a well-timed touch, or the way she held her body, or simply a knowing smile.
I stood up quickly, took her hand and pulled her up from her chair. Her mouth was no more than six inches from mine, her lips slightly apart, and her eyes half closed so I could not see exactly where she was looking. I could feel her breath brushing my lips. We stood there for what seemed a lifetime but it was only a few seconds, and then I broke the spell.
“We must hurry!” I urged gruffly. “You know what will happen if either of us are caught out and about during curfew?”
We left the cafe and headed towards the Hotel Lebanon. I was hoping that we would make it before curfew broke. Leah’s apartment was not more than 100 yards from the hotel where my firm had taken a couple of suites for the management staff. My heart was racing and I was desperately hoping that Leah would come and stay at the hotel with me tonight. I took her hand as we walked along the sidewalk. She glanced at me and smiled, then squeezed my hand.
“I’m frightened to be alone.” She said. “Can I come and stay with you tonight?”
I must have had a surprised look on my face because she promptly said.
“I mean stay as in stay as a guest not as your lover.” She said in her best husky voice. She smiled again and then winked at me. I burst out laughing and she joined in the laughter shaking her head and letting her hair swirl around her face.
Over the laughter I did not hear the sound of a racing engine approaching down the street behind us. When I turned I saw it was a Douchka and its gunman was staring directly at me. The big hand on the clock on the front of the Hotel Lebanon had just hit the twelve. Nine o’clock and we were seconds from the hotel. I shouted to Leah to run and started to drag her towards the hotel entrance. Our hands unlocked as she slipped over and sprawled across the pavement. I turned back to help just as the Douchka screamed to a halt. The gunman stepped off the vehicle and walked over to us.
Remembering Jounieh - Part 4
I noticed that he had unclasped his holster and was removing his Magnum 357. He pointed the gun at me and said in very good English.
“You are not Arabic, are you American?”
“No.” I answered. “I’m British.” I looked at Leah. She was lying still on her front, her face pressed to the paving stones.
“What are you doing having a relationship with an Arab?” The gunman shouted. “Don’t you know you are endangering her life?”
“We are not lovers.” I replied. We are just friends.
“Lair,” He spat. “You were holding hands.”
Leah said something in Arabic which I did not understand and the gunman turned and stared at me in the eyes for several seconds. Then he said. “If I ever see you with this woman again I will kill you. Do you understand….I will kill you and torture her.”
I didn’t know what to say and just continued to meet his fierce stare. “Do you understand?” He shouted, waving his gun around my face.
“Yes,” I whispered, “I understand.”
With that he turned and jumped into the open door of the Douchka. It roared away with the Arab manning the machine gun grinning as he sprayed machine gun bullets up into the evening sky.
“What on earth did you say to him?” I asked as I bent to help Leah up from the pavement. “Are you all right?” I finished.
“I’m just a little shaken. I’ll be alright now. You don’t want to know what I said to him.” She countered as she slipped her arm through mine and looked furtively over her shoulders with wide frightened eyes.
“Let’s go away for a few days Sam. I’m afraid to stay in the city.”
“Where can we go,” I asked.
“Jounieh is just the other side of the bay but far enough away for the fighting not to impinge on daily life. They have great beaches and a fabulous night life.” She managed through her fear to look coyly into my eyes and said. “Besides, dear, no one will ask questions if we stay in a room together.”
I agreed at once and we decided to leave the next morning for Jounieh.
The sun was almost over the horizon of a darkening azure sky reflecting off the clear crystal sea, which softly kissed the endless white sands. My hands held the ice cream Leah had asked for five minutes before, Strawberry, one scoop.
Remembering Jounieh - Part 5
“I have to look after my body for you.” Leah had said as I walked away over the dunes to find what she desired. I turned and smiled. She was always teasing me and I enjoyed the anticipation of knowing that soon she would yield up her virginity to me.
Now returning to her I saw her lying on her back, arms akimbo, embracing the warm touch of the sun’s rays on her bronzed body. As I drew closer I noticed the beads of sweat gathering below her throat and running down between her breasts in rhythm with the rise and fall of her breathing. I drew still closer and gazed down at her seemingly sleeping form. My eyes slowly travelled from her serene face, down over her perfect breasts, down over her flat belly, downward to the slight rise between her open thighs.
I stopped and stood in front of her, not daring to breath, my heart raced, and I felt the familiar stirring in my loins as I gazed at the mound beneath her bikini bottom. I put the ice cream down on the sand by her small well-formed feet and knelt down between her slightly open legs. She must have felt my presence, because she raised her knees slightly and her thighs opened like a blooming flower, as if inviting me between them or inviting me to enjoy her musky fragrance. I understood the game now, Leah’s cultural background could never allow her to openly invite me to touch parts of her body that no man had seen or touched before. So she had to pretend that she was asleep and at the same time entice me to her.
For a moment I froze, the anticipation of the last weeks’ held suspended in seconds of pure amazement that someone as young and inexperienced as her could make me understand what she wanted without a word, or a look, but simply by the setting, a feast on a tablecloth of white sand, just waiting to be savoured.
Was it my imagination, no, her nipples were hardening, reaching for the blue sky above her. I unfroze and leaned forward noticing that her bikini bottoms were tied to the side by a thin cord. I resisted no longer, my fingers deftly undid the cord and slowly pulled down the front of the bikini.
My head bent towards her flower and as the tip of my tongue contacted her petals, Leah gave out a low moan, and opened a little more. My tongue penetrated her, tasting her for the first time; she began to moan. Softly at first then a little louder as my tongue traced a line towards her clitoris. I slid my hands up her flat belly and surrounded her breasts, squeezing gently. My mouth now engulfs her engorged petals, drinking her wine, drinking her dry. Getting intoxicated as each second passed, with emotion, with passion, and desire.
Her moans grew louder as she pressed her lower body against my mouth as if inviting me deep within her. My own manhood, was now rock hard, and crying to be released from my trunks. I comply. Then, as my trunks fell away and I knelt before her, she reached for me, and I realize she was very much awake.
I gazed at her and her eyes locked onto mine, moist with tears, moist with her desire. She smiled, her tongue slowly licking her top lip.
Leah whispered. “It’s mine to do anything I want with it.”
“What do you want to do with it?” I breathed.
“Everything, everything you have done in past and more.”
“Now?” I whispered.
“Yes my darling.” She smiled. “Now I want you to make love to me, take away my virginity. I want to feel you deep inside me, I want to feel........”
Then she locked her half closed eyes on mine and in her most alluring French accented voice, she whispered. “Take me.” Then she rolled me over onto my side and slide up my body until her still erect nipples were close to my mouth, her right leg slid underneath my body and she splayed her left leg outwards, opening her flower for me. She took my manhood and placed it at the entrance of her wet warmth. Then she pulled her left leg over my waist and in one motion pulled me deep inside her. I gasped; I saw tears on her cheek and looked deep into her eyes, which until we finished never left mine at all. We lay motionless for a minute to let the pain of her lost virginity subside, and then she slowly started to gyrate her hips, grinding against my pelvis…………
After we had made love that first time and I had taken Leah’s virginity, we swam a little in the sea and then found the same quiet corner of the beach where we had made love before and lay side by side looking at the sinking sun.
“What are you thinking about darling?” I asked.
“I’m thinking that I’m glad we did what we did before it was too late.”
“Why will it become too late?” I questioned.
“One day soon you will leave to go back to your family or I will be executed for falling in love with a Christian.”
“Don’t be morbid. We have a long time left to us. Anyway if I am evacuated you will come with me won’t you?”
“My family would be in danger if I left Beirut.” Leah said. “They would be executed one by one.” “You must be realistic. There is not a future for us here or anywhere. If it were not for the war there would be, but as it stands we have a short time left. So let’s make the best of it. Make love to me again.”
Leah rolled on top of me and I became lost in her kisses and musky sexual fragrance, as we made love with such an urgent rhythm that it left me with a knot of fear in my gut.
Remembering Jounieh - Part 6
Later, we dressed in the hotel room we had rented for the day and then I had the hotel reception call my driver to bring the company car to front entrance. I always hated the Journey from Jounieh to West Beirut. East Beirut was a mess and West Beirut was even worse. I always felt nervous when we crossed the Green Line; the Palestinian crossing guards always looked so menacing.
As the black Mercedes approached the Green Line between West and East Beirut, the driver turned to me and went over what we had talked about earlier. I nodded my head vigorously, not really listening, as I could see four PLO Militiamen at the checkpoint. This was unusual, as on previous trips across the Green Line, there had been at most two checkpoint guards. These four were all heavily armed, their Russian made AK-47 automatic rifles, trained steadily on the car.
Having had a relationship with the daughter of a Greek Army Major for a short time, I knew all about the AK-47. It was the standard weapon of the Soviet Armed forces and exists in greater numbers than any other type of automatic rifle. Many third-world nations now use the AK-47 and US, Israeli, and other special operations forces use the AK-47 on missions where it is important to blend in with the local forces. I knew it was Gas-operated and highly reliable, but accuracy beyond 300 metres is poor. Despite this, the AK-47 is one of the most widely used weapons in the world today. Weighing only just over 9lbs, it could fire on fully automatic, 100 rounds a minute, at a speed of 600 metres a second.
Now my heart suddenly appeared to be somewhere at the back of my throat, and I found myself gasping for air as my mind took in a kaleidoscope of images, none of which had a happy ending. What was a banker like me doing here? This was the domain of the James Bonds of this world.
The car slowed to a stop, and while one of the Palestinians stood in front of the car, the others spread out around it. One of them approached the drivers’ door. He motioned for the window to be wound down. As the driver wound down his window, the Palestinian pushed the end of the AK-47 through the gap.
“Papers” He scowled.
The driver fumbled in his inside jacket pocket, before producing a rather crumpled set of identity papers, which were immediately snatched from his grasp. Then waving the papers in the direction of the Palestinian who had positioned himself at the right rear of the car, next to the right rear door where I was sitting, he said something in Arabic. All I understood, and for all the Arabic that Leah had tried to teach me, was the name Hassan.
Hassan moved forward, took the papers, and started to read them every now and again glancing at Leah. I looked at Leah and her hand covered mine discreetly so as the check point guards couldn’t see that we were holding hands. She looked terrified. The driver half turned to me and whispered.
“They haven’t told me to turn the engine off yet. Remember what I said. When they do I’m going to hit the accelerator and try to get across the green line into East Beirut before they can start firing. You and Leah get down onto the floor quickly”
I nodded my agreement into the driving mirror.
The guard on Leah’s side of the car slouched over to the driver and told him to switch off the car’s engine. I braced myself and held Leah’s hand even tighter.
Even to this day I can’t remember clearly what happened. It was all so fast. The Mercedes jumped forward as the driver hit the gas pedal. The acceleration was so unexpected and so strong that as I tried to pull Leah down to the floor she was jerked back upright against the back seat of the car and I was still halfway between the seat and the floor.
Two PLO guards opened fire and at first their bullets were hitting the road around the car but as the car increased its distance, their aim became surer and as I managed to hit the floor and pull Leah down with me I heard the thud of bullets hitting the back of the car and shards of glass from the back and side windows began to shower down on us.
After what seemed a few minutes, but in reality was only seconds, the driver turned sharply right, putting a building between us and the rain of steel. The car stopped and the driver turned around and inspected the damage.
“You and Leah okay?” He asked.
“I’m fine I think. Leah, are you okay?” I said.
As I said it I knew she wasn’t. Her hand felt lifeless in mine and I felt warm blood on the hand that was holding hers. I gently lifted her off me and there it was, a small entry wound in her back. I sat her upright and saw that the bullet had exited her body through her left breast. It had passed through her heart. I looked into her eyes hoping to see some life there but they were vacant. She saw nothing. She would never see or feel anything again.
I closed her eyes with my hand and kissed her one last time on her lips.....
My revere was broken by the sound of the Boeings flaps being lowered and the judder that comes with the air breaks being applied, as the giant airliner swooped towards the concrete ribbon that was its final destination and perhaps like Leah’s, my final resting place.
About the Author
Philip was born and educated in the United Kingdom. He joined Citibank in London before moving to Athens where he worked as a foreign exchange trader for both Citibank and Chase Manhattan Bank. Philip was then posted to Citibank's Middle East North African Training Centre in Athens/Beirut as the operations manager and a foreign exchange trainer. After returning to the United Kingdom Philip joined Union Bank of Switzerland as the Head of Learning and Development and introduced trading simulations as a safe way for new traders to trade. In 1993 he was appointed Head of Learning and Education for UBS in North America. He later left the bank and went into partnership with two colleagues and set up a successful financial training company (New Learning Developments) in New York City. At New Learning Developments he developed relationships with all the major investment banks such as Goldman, Lehman, JP Morgan, and other major financial institutions such as The Federal Reserve Bank, Chase, Citibank, ABN-AMRO and the World Bank. In 1999 he returned to London where he worked as a training consultant to financial services institutions and the Ministry of Defence. In 2001 he went to Greece where he wrote books to teach English as a second language as well as developing knowledge databases for on-line brokerage houses. He returned to London in 2012 where he works with autistic children and conducts webinars on foreign exchange and on-line retail trading. He has also written several fictional short stories, nine books on forex and is currently writing his first novel titled Operation Gladio.
Discover other titles by the author:
If I Could Paint Your Picture
The Old Woman of Mani
Sparky the Baby Green Dragon
Master Trading the Financial Markets
Trading with Traders (8 volumes)
Operation Gladio (released September 2016)
All titles available on Amazon.